One thing about 88-Keys is the dude loves Polo. He claims to have worn the label every day for 16 years straight. Another thing about him, he’s worked with all the acts you love, producing for the likes of Mos Def, The Pharcyde, Beanie Sigel and Talib Kweli. Also, he’s got some really good friends. In fact, when he had a finished version of his album The Death of Adam, his buddy Kanye West heard it and jumped on board as an executive producer, helping to make the album over by trimming the fat and revamping the story. What came out was a critically acclaimed concept album telling of the trials and tribulations of a murder victim, “Adam,” who has fallen hapless victim to the almighty power of the punani.
“[Kanye’s] surprise twist to the album that was like a moment of genius.”
Format: How does it feel now that the album is finally out?
88-Keys: It feels like I still have much to do. I mean, I really, truly appreciate the feedback I’ve been getting from the album and the response has been quite crazy, but I need to figure out how to make that translate into Weezy numbers.
Format: Exactly. You worked really hard on it, but does it still mean anything if no one listens to the product? Or is it only successful if it moves tons of units?
88-Keys: It’s not all about the sales for me. If I had to pick between the two – no, that’s a bad example because I probably go for more units because that means more money. I’d be satisfied with the critical acclaim, which is what has been going on now. Old friends from the past are hitting me up out of the blue now and sending me all these links of websites that have been reviewing my album and it’s only good things.
The critical acclaim is quite satisfying, but I’m not satisfied. I’d like it to translate into bigger and better things than just critical acclaim. I have a family to take care of, friends and family that I’m trying to help. At the end of the day, I know that me actually selling units would put me in more of a position of power. I was able to do what I wanted to do creatively with this album, with [record label] Decon being an independent company and being really flexible and allowing me to execute my ideas and coming to the table with some really good ideas as well. I feel like if I sell those units and get the support of the people, then I’ll be able to bigger and better things next time around, [like] have better tours and make my stage show even better.
Format: So it’s not really over when the album finally comes out, it’s actually only the beginning…
88-Keys: Yeah, it’s the very beginning, the very beginning. I want people to really understand that. Supporting the artist, it goes beyond putting money in their pocket so they can push their Maybach or whatever.
Format: Tell me about your live show. What are you doing to make yourself stand out?
88-Keys: The other show that I had before Kanye’s [involvement with the] album was very theatrical. The story that is being told on the album, I did my best to act it out without me playing the character of Adam. I wanted a clear separation between me and the character of Adam, even though he represents man in society. My former DJ, DJ Sin City who is this very attractive female DJ, I had her coming out looking like the black widow. She had the garter belt, the black lacy outfit. She actually became part of my show. I had scripts for her to learn and to the end of the show she chokes me out. She closes the show. I set up baby mama drama beef between me and her.
With Kanye’s involvement, I don’t want to give too much away because I plan on using this for a new show. Let’s just say I have Kanye West performing “Stay Up (Viagra)” with me every night. But with the new show I’m working on, I haven’t had a minute to really sit down and focus on it, but I’m definitely trying to take it a step above and beyond that. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get the sales that will bring it to the next level that I can fully execute my ideas and bring props, backdrops and lighting to the show for people who are fans of the album. I would like to make my show somewhere on the level of [Kanye’s] Touch the Sky tour or the Glow in the Dark tour. I have a plan to be as big as that but at the end of the day it all comes down to the dollars and cents.
Format: Speaking of Kanye, he executive produced the album the second time around. What was his influence like? How drastic were the changes you guys made?
88-Keys: Well, he did a lot to it without actually doing a lot to it. If that makes sense. One thing he did was he shaved my album down from 21 tracks. It was a 21-track album, which included four interludes. He shaved it down to the 14 tracks that it is now. It was going to be 13 tracks but I spit a rhyme for him for the song “Another Victim” and he was like “Oh yeah, let’s do that one too.”
It’s not that the other songs were wack that he took off. Number 1, he’s always been a fan of short albums. Ten, twelve, thirteen songs on an album is quite enough in his opinion. The other songs that were extracted, I pretty much told those parts of the story in other songs. It was a little bit redundant.
[Kanye] helping me write the story was really dope. But, when he flipped the ending, there’s like a surprise twist to the album that was like a moment of genius. That was so dope that it actually took me like twenty-six seconds to catch on. I was like, “Oh shoot! Yo, that’s crazy!”
Format: You had a few guests on the album – Redman, Bilal, to name a few. What was it like to work with guests? Who was your favorite?
88-Keys: I would say it would have to be the artist “everybody.” Yea, there’s a story behind every song and every artist collaboration that I did. From Kanye coming over to my apartment and wanting to rap on three different songs to Redman coming up with a dance for “The Burning Bush” to the song that didn’t actually make it to the final cut of the album, the Just Blaze feature song called “Mistreat Her” where he’s just cutting up everybody’s vocals like crazy. There’s a story for every song.
Format: So Death of Adam is an obvious concept. You’re married with kids. Was the album autobiographical for you at all?
88-Keys: It was kind of a general inspiration, but I guess consequently it is part my life because Adam represents man and mankind. I love my wife and I love my daughters and the family that we’ve built together. The story was my idea and then Kanye and I rewrote the story together. The twist that he put on there was his idea which I agreed to.
It’s actually the complete opposite of what I represent and my feeling on my subject matter of marriage. I went back and forth on it, thinking, “am I misrepresenting myself by allowing this to be the new spin on the album?” But then I thought, “you know what? This ending will bring awareness to what’s going on and to my initial reasons for having the album be about what it is.” I’m actually trying to promote family unit and trying to bring health. I started looking at it like, you can have a doctor go to a school and speak to the students about AIDS awareness and stuff like that and it might have an impact, but people will look at it like, “I’ve heard all this before,” or, “this is coming from a suit so why should I care?” Or you could have a person who is AIDS infected come to the school and speak on the subject matter and I’m guessing 9 times out of 10 the students will be way more attentive to that person and they’ll be able to actually see the effects of not being educated on the subject matter. I started looking at it like that.
When people catch wind of the ending, you know, how Adam dies, I hope that sparks a conversation. “Hey, what did 88-Keys mean by this?” Then it expands the conversation about the subject of the relationship of men and women and having children outside of wedlock.
More info: http://www.myspace.com/88keys